WORKING OUT what to wear can be tricky at the best of times. It’s that time of year when the season’s fat fashion magazines pile up around the house, causing equal parts excitement - the clothes are so tempting and gorgeous - and stress - how on earth will you be able to translate catwalk couture into a wardrobe that you can actually wear, much less afford?
This year the fashion pack advocates everything from beehives to brooches for the coming season. But have no fear, we’ve identified three key looks that will carry you through every occasion this autumn and winter, including that all important Christmas season, when parties are the norm and a gal wants to look her dazzling best.
Our top three picks are achingly chic Hollywood glamour, worthy of Rita Hayworth or Ava Gardner; retro-inspired fashion that is both practical and stylish, and will bring to mind the kinds of clothes your mum and granny looked so great in; and the return of ladylike softness.
Pictured here are three brand new designer offerings that inspired us, but simply turn the page to discover how easy it is to go from the catwalk to your front walk, without making a special shopping expedition to Paris, Milan, or even London.
This autumn think about princess coats, tweed skirts and soft chiffon blouses. Belts, both skinny and thick, worn over your coat, or around the waist of a chunky tweed skirt. Gorgeous flowing dresses that cinch in at the waist or cascade in a stream of satin just grazing the floor are your key items for after dark. Colours range from the palest of nude tones and icy whites, to leafy greens and robust berry tones, so there really is something here to suit every woman.
In short, drama is now the buzzword on everyone’s lips - and we’ll show you how to make an impact without breaking the bank.
LOOK 1: HOLLYWOOD
THE KEY TO getting glamour right this winter is a jaw-dropping dress with as few accessories as possible. Your inspiration is Kate Moss - think decadence without the excess. For DIY practicality, both Top Shop and Zara can be counted on to roll out some glamorous items and accessories in time for Christmas - something with a bit of glitz and glamour - and Monsoon is also pretty good when it comes to dresses that scream luxury.
If you’re feeling daring, try one that’s long and backless or has panels cut in at the side to reveal a peek of toned back and trim waist. Remember that plunging necklines with skinny straps also show off bare arms and collar bones, so book that spa session now. Satin is the luxury winter fabric, embellished with the Hollywood golden era’s finest beads, crystal, sequins and tassling. For colours, think subtle flesh tones, or go for classic black.
When it comes to shoes, heels should be high, with rows of sparkle peeking out from under a hemline. River Island does a gorgeous pair in peach satin with diamante toes. Your bag should be miniscule, match the dress, and be similarly sparkly. Try Accesorize for a bargain or Hobbs to splash out.
The key to makeup here is the eyes. Try a dramatic, smoky look - Fcuk’s new makeup range has some great dark colours - but keep lips and cheeks bare. Hair, too, should have a natural bounce. The night before, keep your face foundation free for a fresh-faced dewy look. And if you’re worried about squeezing into that dress, get yourself down to the gym. All that sweat and tears will be worth it when you descend that staircase, dripping with Hollywood style.
LOOK 2: LADYLIKE
BARONESS Thatcher may be the unlikely inspiration for this look, but ladylike chic is about untangling the pin curls of conservatism and putting on smart sexy separates. Think Madonna at her book launches or Cate Blanchett any old time.
This season, winter woollens have been given a sexy gloss with velvet trimmings and feminine bows, and the best place to track them down examples of this is at good old reliable Marks & Spencers. Monsoon and H&M also have some lovely classic woollen shapes to choose from, while Jaeger is great for the basics. Look out for the tightest of pencil skirts and the hippest 40-style slacks at Zara, always good for that knock off Chanel effect that will fool people into thinking you’re a personal friend of Karl Lagerfeld’s. Or, try Jigsaw for their wide range of tweed skirts and twin sets.
The key to looking prim and proper lies in the blouse you choose. It should be lightweight and demure, preferably in a pale, neutral colour. Try visiting H&M or Miss Selfridges to pick up fine wisps of sexy chiffon, either printed or monochrome, complete with a pussycat-bow or dainty pin-tucks.
Accessories can be tricky here. For the hardcore trendsetters it’s pearls, over-sized brooches and gloves all the way, but we recommend choosing one, rather than all three, if you want to avoid overkill. River Island is great place to source classic pearls (ok, so they’re not real). If you decide to plump for an A-line skirt, remember it’s all about showing the best of what you’ve got in a cold climate. Think twin set does femme fatale, and wrap a belt (the best ones are at Zara) round the hips of your tweeds for sassy sex appeal.
LOOK 3: RETRO
IN FASHION terms, there’s never been a truer saying than "what goes around comes around". That’s because classic style has no sell-by date. This winter, though, there’s a trick to getting it right. Retro chic is back with a vengeance, but this time around, it’s OK to mix and match your eras and cherry pick from the best of days gone by.
High Street favourite Oasis has even launched a new line they’re calling vintage, where Fifties-style skirts, cardigans and knee-length coats swirl in a jamboree of colour and pattern. You’ll even find a few throwbacks to Twenties flapper style in there, even though that’s so last season.
Meanwhile Scots favourite Pringle is rolling out a load of twin sets based on prints and patterns from the designer’s original archive. The look is elegant, Fifties chic that will ensure you’re always impeccably dressed.
Writer and model Laura Bailey always gets this look perfect, with power shirts open to the navel, nestling behind a clingy buttoned cardigan. Handbag designer Lulu Guinness is another stalwart of retro style with her stylish wardrobe of dresses with nipped in waists and full swirly skirts.
When it comes to separates, pay a visit to Whistles for feminine cardis and delicate V-neck sweaters. It’s a great place to pick up some elegant boho chic as well.
You’ll find the best printed skirts at LK Bennett, alongside her justifiably famous shoes in a rainbow of colours, while Zara does a good range of Sixties-inspired A-Line and fitted skirts in bold black and white.
The key to working retro style is not to look like you’re working at all. Clothes should appear artfully thrown together rather than carefully composed.
With this in mind, a great coat is the perfect finishing touch. Top Shop do some of the best coats, and their range includes fabulous 1960s-style fur-collared coats.
Whether your outerwear is fitted or worn loosely, don’t forget to add a belt, for they are this winter’s big accessories. They can be skinny or broad, but must always be kept on the outside of your outfit. Make sure it’s long enough to wrap around you no matter how many layers you are wearing.
You’ll find a great range of belts at Marks & Spencer, and H&M have also gone all out for belted chic this winter. For the less adventurous, a fine slither of leather over your cardigan will keep you looking stylish.
Matching shoes and bags are too prim for the retro effect, which relies heavily on not taking yourself too seriously and deriving maximum pleasure from your costumes. With that in mind, don’t be afraid to be bold when choosing accessories of different colours and textures. The dash of a pair of bright red shoes does wonders for an otherwise demure, old fashioned look.